PRINT March 2017


Terence Davies’s A Quiet Passion

Terence Davies, A Quiet Passion, 2016, 4K video, color, sound, 126 minutes. Emily Dickinson (Cynthia Nixon).

“BIOGRAPHY FIRST CONVINCES us of the fleeing of the Biographied,” Emily Dickinson once observed. She might well have been talking about herself, for she’s the elusive subject par excellence. We know almost nothing about her. She died relatively young, at the age of fifty-five, and for the last decades of her life chose not to venture outside of Amherst, Massachusetts, or for that matter beyond the confines of her family’s property. She published only a handful of poems, and we’re not sure why she shunned, if she really did, the fame she often mentioned in her verse. (“Fame is a bee”; “Publication—is the Auction / Of the Mind of Man.”) She never married, although she passionately addressed someone she called “Master,” whose identity is unknown. And she wrote some of the most stunning lyrics of any poet, ever.

If this isn’t fodder for speculation, nothing is. Countless novels,

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